Last chance of campaigning
(18/02-2008) The main rivalling presidential candidates did not miss their last chance of campaigning this weekend before the elections on 19 February.
The two main rivals Levon Ter-Petrossyan (ex-President) and Serge Sargsyan (current Prime Minister) occupied the central Liberty Square by the Opera on Saturday and Sunday respectively, whilst the other candidates held their last appeals by the Document museum Matenadaran or in the outskirts of Yerevan. Both Ter-Petrossyan and Sargsyan prepared their thousands of present supporters for victory.
Also People’s Party's Tigran Karapetyan, Armenian Revolution Federation’s Vahan Hovhannisyan and Rule of Law Party's Artur Baghdasaryan made a last effort to win voters this weekend.
According to the Armenian Election Code, the presidential candidates are not allowed to campaign the last 24 hours before Election Day.
Ter-Petrossyan rally Saturday
On Saturday at three in the afternoon, Levon Ter-Petrossyan arranged his last of many rallies in the central Liberty Square. Many Armenian families took the occasion as an outing, and showed up in family groupings. The Liberty Square was packed, and people were lined up even across the Tumanyan Street and down the “New Street.” Some of Ter-Petrossyan’s allies, amongst them deputy chairman of the union of war veterans Yerkrapah held appeals, and the crowd was cheering. The former Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, assassinated on 27 October 1999, established this organization. The brother of the assassinated Prime Minister, Aram Sargsyan, also addressed the audience Saturday. A representative from one of two opposition parties in the parliament, Raffi Hovhannisyan’s Heritage Party, spoke to the audience as well. Hovhannisyan himself has so far not endorsed Ter-Petrossyan’s candidature officially. By the time Ter-Petrossyan himself appeared on stage, the audience had been present for almost two hours.
The first president encouraged his supporters to lower their banners, placards, and flags so that he could see their faces, and said that the attendance on this and other rallies near Yerevan had assured the victory also in more remote areas of Armenia. He informed of the next rally, which will take place on Wednesday in the centre of Yerevan. In the case of election fraud, it will be a lasting rally, he warned. However, in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty he underlined that he will not resort to violence in any case. Incumbent president Robert Kocharyan says he will meet calm street protests with ease, but does not hesitate to react with all its power on provocations.
Ter-Petrossyan spoke briefly of his recent visit to the Russian Federation, a visit that has sparked several rumours and theories over the last week. It is unsure whom the former president met with and what was the purpose of his trip. Ter-Petrossyan did not shed any light on whom he had talked to specifically, but implied that he has support from Russia, in particular related to the Karabakh peace process.
After the rally the crowds continued their support through a procession through central Yerevan streets. The procession was limited to 25 minutes by the city municipality, but the first participators who returned to the Liberty Square had to wait for about 40 minutes for their colleagues. According to the website a1plus.am the procession was 2600 meters long. In the procession one could hear shouts of “Serzhik, step down,” “Victory,” and “Levon,” and upon return to the square people were dancing and cheering to music from big speakers. Cars that were obstructed in traffic seemed to be calm, and some of them joined in the cheering.
Ter-Petrossyan faced accusations that people were bussed in to make the rally seem bigger, and this impression was underlined by the presence of a large number of young men that seemed to have arrived from the regions.
Sargsyan rally Sunday
Inspired by the great attendance on Ter-Petrossyan’s rally the previous day, Serge Sargsyan seemed determined to outnumber his rival. Packed in groups and fur coats middle-aged women and some men were waiting all along the main prospect Mashtots in order to march to the Liberty Square and Sargsyan’s rally at three o’clock. Other groups were waiting in front of their work place, various schools en route. Police and interior ministry soldiers, accompanied by Armenian traditional music from speakers, guarded the women. Police cars had blocked the side streets in preparation for the march. A similar procession had its starting point at Republic Square
After some confusion on the route, the big processions reached Liberty Square. Sargsyan asked the audience to give him their vote of confidence, and assured them that the elections would be carried out without fraud. He reminded the crowd of what he had accomplished over the last nine months as prime minister, and encouraged the potential voters to continue the good cooperation by giving him their votes Tuesday.
According to some international observers the crowd started to disperse even as Sargsyan was speaking, and as the crowd did not respond to the appeals, cheering was played from tape recorders. Towards the end glitter cannons were fired, and the city’s less fortunate were busy collecting merchandise that could be sold on. By 3.30 it was all over, and few people were to be seen on the square. Flags and banners were lying in the melted snow together with sunflower seeds and glitter.
Three elderly men were standing amongst the litter discussing the rally, calling it a “fiasco.”
– We came to watch the farce, they said. Look at this. Who leaves banners like that if they are real supporters? People didn’t care at all about what Serge said, the men explained. But yesterday, that was a real rally! We are all for Ter-Petrossyan, he’s a real politician.
A young girl joins in and tells about her relatives who were told to attend the rally or lose their public sector jobs.
– Of course they complied, she said, they would definitely lose their jobs if not. It’s not just empty threats.
Whereas many of the attendees were public servants, also many Javakheti Armenians from Georgia were present. They told the RFE/RL they had been transported in buses and minibuses overnight to show their support for Sargsyan, who they think can help the Armenians that are discriminated in their part of Georgia.
The presidential candidate from the People’s Party, Tigran Karapetyan, encouraged his crowd to a prayer for love and tolerance in front of the museum Matenadaran in the centre of Yerevan Sunday. The people present lit candles and joined in a silent moment for love instead of empty promises. Many of the attendees took the candle with them home.
On Sunday also the Armenian Revolution Federation’s supporters with their candidate Vahan Hovhannisyan marched in the streets of Yerevan. Students handed out flyers and encouragements and Hovhannisyan focused on education in his address to the people present.
Artur Baghdasaryan, the presidential candidate of the Orinats Yerkir, Rule of Law Party, was not given the municipality’s permission to conduct his final rally by the Matenadaran on Sunday as he had applied for. Instead of retreating to one of the alternative sites in Yerevan suggested to him by the mayor’s office, Baghdasaryan chose to conduct his final campaign meeting in the northern city of Gyumri.